March 29, 2020

The Resurrection and the Life

Jesus said to her,
“Your brother will rise.” 
Martha said to him,
“I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day.” 
Jesus told her,
“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." 
(John 11: 23-25)
I am the resurrection and the life. A final hope, a theological concept, is revealed in person. Eschaton made flesh.

That's the sacramental mystery at the heart of Christianity.

March 7, 2020


With Lent comes the Lord’s invitation: to let ourselves be led up the high mountain where we become our deepest and truest selves. The mountain is prayer. It is there that we discover the call that is God himself. In prayer we get to know God and ourselves, for our true identity is nothing more than who we are in God’s desire for us. This divine desire—or will of God—is revealed in how the call takes shape in our particular circumstances, and so becomes our vocation.

If we consent to remain on this high mountain of prayer we will have glimpses, visions of Resurrection glory, of the Christ who transfigures creation. These moments will be short and obscure for they are only a touching of the hem of his garment, but they will also be beautiful beyond our own imagining and desire. They may also be frightening, for they call us to a new boldness and single-mindedness in following Jesus. But the vocation is not to be feared, for wherever it leads us, the call is only to him, to Jesus Christ, and to the life of the new creation that dawns in his Resurrection.

(Reflection prepared for our vocation office to post on its social media for the 2nd Sunday of Lent)

December 5, 2019

Some Things I'll Miss

On the Monday after Pentecost in 2012 I got on an airplane in Boston and the next morning the guardian of the Capuchin General Curia fraternity and the Secretary General of the Order collected me from the airport in Rome. Now, in the first week of Advent 2019, I'm going home. It's the longest I've been anywhere since growing up.

These seven and a half years have been a remarkable time in my journey as a Christian and a religious. I have had the opportunity to get to know the Capuchin Order at the international level and have lived and worked with friars from all over the world. Twice I had the opportunity to meet Pope Francis.

On the other hand, this assignment hasn't always been easy; there have been times of darkness and difficulty for sure. As my first counterpart for Portuguese (I was secretary for English) put it, the best things in Rome are pasta, vino, e Fiumicino! meaning that, ok, the food here is good but what's best is to go home.

Nevertheless, this has been a time much blessed by God. A lot of that grace I can already discern, but I'm sure much more will be noticed over time.

There are plenty of things I won't miss about my existence in Rome and Italy. In order to avoid getting negative as I was finishing up my Roman period, I began to cultivate a list of some of the stuff I will miss:

  • probably more than anything else, up to date Roman-Franciscan/Capuchin liturgical texts and books
  • going to Assisi for the day
  • confession available every day, morning and afternoon
  • the Capuchin Sisters of Mother Rubatto and the 6 a.m. walk through Villa Borghese when it was my turn to celebrate weekday Mass for them
  • visits to the Libreria Editrice Vaticana and the Libreria La Leoniana
  • St. Peter's Basilica early in the morning
  • the Italian Bishops' Conference Liturgy of the Hours mobile app
  • not having to remember the name of a local bishop at Mass
  • multicultural Christmas eve suppers with the handful of friars left 
  • cappuccino e cornetto
  • pizza al taglio

November 10, 2019

Don't Blame Me

Today at church they were giving out nice holy cards of the 'Miraculous crucifix that is venerated in parish basilica of St. Teresa on Corso d'Italia in Rome':

I've spent plenty of time in the basilica in the five years I've lived in this neighborhood, but I had not known that this crucifix was said to be miraculous. At first I noted the non-italiano standard spelling crocefisso. I checked with the Accademia della Crusca online and they say it's fine. But what struck me especially was the curious message on the back of the card:

I am the light, and you don't see me.
I am the way, and you don't follow me.
I am the truth, and you don't believe me.
I am the life, and you don't seek me.
I am the teacher, and you don't listen to me.
I am the boss, and you don't obey me.
I am your God, and you don't pray to me.
I am your great friend, and you don't love me. 
[So] if you are unhappy, don't blame it on me!
If anyone knows the origin, please share!

October 10, 2019

Liturgical Books and Our Sense of Time

[Original post, July 12, 2010]

Anyone who has used a hand missal or a breviary is familiar with the chart of movable days somewhere in the front. I find it interesting to note how far they go into the future, because I suspect it says something about our sense of time and change.

My hand missal for the ordinary form, published in 2003, goes up to 2010, suggesting that the editors imagined one would use it for seven years. Perhaps it was a good guess, given that we expect the new and improved English translation of the 2002 Missale Romanum one of these days. [As we know, it arrived for Advent 2011.]

My Baronius Press hand missal for the extraordinary form, published in 2007, has a calendar that goes up to 2066, suggesting a much longer sense of how long someone might use it.

My 1976 American English Liturgy of the Hours goes up to 1999, while the 2000 typical edition Liturgia Horarum goes up 2022, about the same span of years. My 1962 Breviarium Romano-Seraphicum goes a little bit longer, to 1992.

The 2002 Missale Romanum contains a liturgical calendar that goes up to 2023, about the same span as the breviaries. The 1954 Missale Romano-Seraphicum, however, has a calendar that goes up to 2003, more than twice the span. The editors imagined it being used almost long enough to come back as an option after forty years of Novus Ordo exclusivity!

I'm sure there's a dissertation to be written here, but on the face it one might guess that folks used to imagine liturgies (and books!) as lasting longer than we do now.


2019 update: On a recent visit to the Specola Vaticana, the Vatican Observatory, the Brother Astronomer showed me a volume of the work of Christopher Clavius, SJ, who was one of the main authors of the Gregorian calendar reform, promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. Just on the page that was open, his calculations for the date of Easter, etc.--in the sixteenth century!--go up to 2031. I don't know how far the charts went after that. So it goes to show that sixteenth century Jesuits (at least) had a longer view of the calendar than any of the liturgical books I mentioned in the original post.

October 5, 2019

Almond Cookies

Among the various quotes and greetings on Twitter for the feast of St. Francis yesterday, there was also mention of the almond cookies that are traditional for the day. I thought folks might be interested to know the source for the association of this special treat with the passing--the Transitus as we Franciscans say--of Francis of Assisi. Here it is in Assisi Compilation chapters 7 to 8:
Although racked with sickness, blessed Francis praised God with great fervor of spirit and joy of body and soul, and told him: "If I am to die soon, call Brother Angelo and Brother Leo that they may sing to me about Sister Death." 
Those brothers came to him and, with many tears, sang the Canticle of Brother Sun and the other creatures of the Lord, which the Saint himself had composed in his illness for the praise of the Lord and the consolation of his own soul and that of others. Before the last stanza he added one about Sister Death: 
"Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm." 
One day blessed Francis called his companions to himself: "You know how faithful and devoted Lady Jacoba dei Settesoli was and is to me and to our religion. Therefore I believe she would consider it a great favor and consolation if you notified her about my condition. Above all, tell her to send you some cloth for a tunic of religious cloth the color of ashes, like the cloth made by Cistercian monks in the region beyond the Alps. Have her also send some of that confection which she often made for me when I was in the City. This confection, made of almonds, sugar or honey, and other things, the Romans call mostacciolo.
Lady Jacoba was a dear friend of Francis. If you've been to the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, you have at the very least walked right by her remains, which are entombed at the level of the landing as you go down the steps into the crypt.

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September 6, 2019

Salami & Zeal

After morning Mass at our neighbor, the basilica of St. Teresa of Ávila, I returned to the house and entered the refectory. There I saw everything set up for the brothers' breakfast like any other day, except for one extraordinary thing: there was some salami. On a Friday.

In my seven years here, I have observed that Friday abstinence is one of the most invariable rules of Capuchin Italy. It is more unassailable than the Capuchin beard or the strict following of Franciscan poverty.  It is even more durable than liturgical law that, when disregarded, results in what the Church warns is grave abuse. Capuchin Italy observes Friday abstinence on solemnities that fall on a Friday as well as on Easter Friday, which some might call incorrect or even impious. The only exception I have ever witnessed is when Christmas falls on a Friday, and that, of course, at the expressed wish of the founder.*

All that is to say that I was quite shocked to see the salami. I thought to myself that the Capuchin General Curia could not have descended to such a level of laxity over just one month of my absence for vacation. So I began to wonder: how long will it take, once the friars start to trickle in from their conventual Mass, for some friar, in his loving concern for the souls of the brothers, to remove the salami to a back refrigerator or some other hiding place?

So I timed it: six minutes and twenty-five seconds, which is a longer time than I would have guessed.

*When there was a discussion about not eating meat, because [Christmas] was on Friday, [St. Francis] replied to Brother Morico: "You sin, brother, when you call 'Friday' the day when unto us a child is born. I want even the walls to eat meat on that day, and if they cannot, at least on the outside they be rubbed with grease!" 
He wanted the poor and hungry to be filled by the rich, and oxen and asses to be spoiled with extra feed and hay. "If I ever speak with the Emperor," he would say, "I will beg him to issue a general decree that all who can should throw wheat and grain along the roads, so that on the day of such a great solemnity, the birds may have an abundance, especially our sisters the larks." 
(Thomas of Celano, 2nd Life of St. Francis, Chapter 151, FA:ED II, 374-375)